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    Cryptic crosswords, clues, conversation and Hackwoody.

    This site goes hand-in-hand with my Patreon text posts, which are duplicated under the same tiers at this site. All of the crosswords are here at

    Below I’ve answered some questions that you may wish to have answered, about me starting a Patreon account, about my guiding principles, about my pseudonym and about some matters of a more mundane but nevertheless important kind.

    This site is a creative experiment which will — I hope, fingers crossed — establish a network of like-minded folk, who enjoy the cryptics here and urge me on to better and brighter things.

    Sure! There are five “static” pages including this one. A menu at the top and bottom of every page navigates to these without opening a new tab. There are other links within these pages directing you to places you might want to go — these open in new tabs.

    The home page is mainly links. One thing that might make you stay there is a sample puzzle for reconnoitrers, curious tourists and the lost to investigate.

    The Patreon Posts page is simply that. Tiers are applied the same thanks to the Patreon plug-in. Posts are synced manually on Patreon and I publish each post on both platforms so that the two locations are in sync in near-real time.

    The Puzzle Index and Solution Index are gateways to every puzzle on the site and to their solutions respectively. Each puzzle sits on a separate page and its solution likewise: you can flip-flop between the two needs be. On the index pages and the puzzle and solution pages there is a link to open a PDF file, which you can print for the non-electronic world. Don’t forget to take a writing tool.

    A word about the solutions, where you can see a finished grid along with explanatory notes about solving in the case of non-standard or themed cryptics. Listed below those find the individual clue explanations, showing the definition section and cryptic section separated by a “|”. In the cryptic section the pieces that go into the final word are in CAPITALS distinguishing them from the lower-case shavings left on the floor under the solver’s bench.

    Some symbols and action labels are used:

    • an asterisk “*” indicates an anagram (TORIES* ➤ SORTIE; BOTH* ➤ THOB (part of a solution THROB));
    • containers are expressed with “around” or “in” depending on the object of the action in the cryptic part of the clue (STY around (U + RD) ➤ STURDY; MOJ(o) in IE rev ➤ EMOJI);
    • “rev” means reversal (LIAR rev ➤ RAIL; IE rev ➤ EI (part of solution EMOJI) (elsewhere you might see this as “<“);
    • a plus sign separates the elements for which there is a separate action or meaning in the clue (M(ariner) + IDS + HIPS ➤ MIDSHIPS);
    • parentheses keep together elements to which a specific action applies ((BY CRETE MIRRORS)* ➤ CYBERTERRORISM), but are more often used to show those pieces of words that are excluded, as with docking, contents and hidden words (SWAM(i) ➤ SWAM; T(h)E (g)R(a)I(n)Y (d)A(r)K (r)I(b) ➤ TERIYAKI);
    • sometimes the action is explained in long form e.g. with a homophone or moving letter (HOLE with V replacing H ➤ VOLE); and,
    • take note that elements are rendered in their final sequence even if the clue has them in a different one with instructions to re-jig the order.

    A bit of personal reminiscence here. I give a few brief contextual episodes that led me to typing these words.

    My first memory of doing a cryptic crossword puzzle, or cryptic, was as a schoolboy on a beach holidaying somewhere in Devon. A copy of the Telegraph lay folded into the familiar, tablet-sized, easy-to-put-down, asking-to-be-picked-up-again format beside Dad on the sand. I had a look for a some while and got one…maybe more than one? The experience appealed to a sense of fascination, thinking about and focusing on the words, and gave me a small thrill. Not that I have ever enjoyed reading for pleasure: my nystagmus did for that. Still, I remember thereafter trying to fill makeshift grids I had drawn on graph paper, looking through word lists for candidates in a tatty orange hardback long gone.

    At that time, the grid was more interesting than the clues. How the transition to clue-writing emerged I have no clear recollection. But, it did, and now clue-writing is the central joy of crosswords for me. Over the years, I drifted in and out of crossword communities with cyclical bouts of enthusiasm and frustration, but always felt I had learned something important from the last encounter that would raise my game. I encountered people and toyed with concepts that I knew were masterful and mythical. And then…

    …I took a leap of faith and got three puzzles published (not under the present pseudonym) in Magpie, the ultra-challenging publication for themed cryptic devotees. Each puzzle, as with the Listener crossword, took months and sometimes the best part of a year to get approved. That they were published was a fulfilling achievement but looking at them now I would say my style of cluing was underdeveloped — I didn’t pursue this avenue further. I was generally confused at that stage by the fact that strict rules were definitely at play, seemingly constricting rules, and yet the clues I saw were playful and natural and to be revered for that. I was misunderstanding something.

    On a more recent, the penultimate, cycle of coming at things, I constructed cryptics still for my own pleasure with only a passing thought of publication (there are so many distinguished setters out there and a horde of puzzlers engaged with crossword syndicates that one hardly knows where or if to start), but puzzles nevertheless that made me more satisfied than before, causing me to reject out-of-hand clues I’d saved in a database. I submitted one new puzzle somewhat hopefully to an eminent puzzler I’d had reason to communicate with in the past and asked him for his evaluation of how close I had got to submitting a puzzle comparable with a Times crossword! His response, though very considerate and positive, was deflating.

    End of cycle. And then, maybe a year on, the low-value coin succumbed to the forces exerted by the massive object! He had picked out two clues for approval. It didn’t matter about the rest. This was the moment at which the competing principles of strictness and creativity were reconciled in my mind. In my mind! We shall see how this plays out. I made the decision to trust my fresh understanding and see if it could carry me forward again, not simply on a personal website but putting the competition briefly to a corner of my mind and giving it a whiz(z) as Hackwoody on a high street with a hat for coins.

    And, why Patreon? I’d heard about it on a You Tube channel about cryptics. So here I am.

    PS: a moment to acknowledge Mrs Margaret Jones, a regular solver of the dailies and the one person who looked forward to receiving my crosswords in the post. Thank you, Margaret!

    Haiku and headlines? These are two, pithy written forms that sit well with a good cryptic clue, saying just what needs to be said to carry an idea and satisfy the reader. I am not a writer of either form but this is the thought that presents itself as a principled aim.

    To write a good clue is therefore the motivating principle. This is a clue that satisfies the need to be mind-provoking and aesthetically pleasing while being scrupulously fair to the solver. I started my work to this end with the publicly available puzzles I put up, standard cryptics that are all about the clues without other solving elements to distract the solver, hopefully providing incentive to see more as a Patron.

    If I succeed in this, the second and final principle must be to provide Patrons with something extra to keep them rooting for me. This should mean novelty and more quality puzzles, including standard cryptics which some Patrons will find preferable to more off-beat types. Within this, I nevertheless aim to retain the principle of the good clue as paramount but simply extend the envelope of what my puzzles challenge you with.

    Jasper medallion of Bellerophon watering Pegasus. Attributed to William Hackwood ca. 1773. WE.7018-2014. By kind permission of VAM.

    The name comes from my direct ancestor, William Hackwood, a pottery modeller who was hired personally by Josiah Wedgwood in the 18th Century. Let me not go into detail but it is evident that he did well for himself during his time working for Wedgwood, for example modelling portrait medallions of royalty and other eminent folk. Do we have any of his work? Nah.

    The family connection was proven by my late Dad, Brian, who put a great deal of legwork into the genealogical research needed, having only started off in his retirement with a hunch: his grandmother’s maiden name was Hackwood and we were Potteries people with one or two stories. Dad also documented links further backwards from William for another four generations and gathered material relating to the general lineage of the surname to the 1300s.

    Hackwoody (with the y on the end for good measure) is a pseudonym I adopted as a crossword puzzle setter. It is customary for setters who publish their puzzles to do so under a nom-de-plume to, I suppose, convey a sense of mystery and quest! And, Hackwoody doesn’t crop up much on the web so I thought it was handy! We have to consider these things nowadays, wouldn’t you agree?

    By way of homage to Brian’s work and to the connections he proved, I have taken another liberty by using images with a little annotation to ornament this site, a motif to brighten the place up a bit. Some images may come from Brian’s archive, others from the web where not under copyright, and yet others with the kind permission of the Victoria and Albert Museum who, in 2019, entered into a partnership with the Wedgwood Museum. I provide full attribution.

    I use Crossword Compiler version 10.

    I am not currently persuaded that the features in version 11 are needed at this time but may think again if the necessity arises!

    Regarding your necessities or options when solving puzzles here, these are covered by what you can see at the bottom of each grid:

    • “Empty grid” deletes any entries you have made and presents you with a blank grid.
    • “Check” will delete any letters you have entered in the grid that are incorrect.
    • “Save” will save your current progress so that you can carry on from where you left off if you need to leave the site.
    • “Solution” reveals all!
    • “Pencil” checkbox if ticked shows the letters you enter in a blue italic font. This is simply to help differentiate between letters you are confident about and letters you are not. Untick the box and overtype when ready to confirm them.
    • The solving time clock starts ticking as soon as you enter a letter into the grid.

    With crosswords for Patrons I shall tend to limit the above to “Save,” the “Pencil” checkbox and the clock.

    Regarding the behaviour and attributes of the puzzle, I can say the experience is a bit clunky in my opinion (particularly if you are used to solving online puzzles published by newspapers) but here’s what you need to know now:

    • clues highlight red corresponding to the currently selected grid square. This means both the Across and Down clues if the current square is at an intersection;
    • use the scroll bars to see all the clues;
    • when entering letters the cursor by default moves to the next available square, skipping over squares that are already filled, for example from a checking word already entered;
    • use the up, down, left and right arrows on your keyboard to navigate around — this may take some getting used to as the outcome is not always intuitive and it may be helpful if you want to edit letters in the grid instead of skipping them; alternatively, click on the required square with your mouse.

    When you successfully solve a puzzle you will see a congratulatory message pop up. If it doesn’t then you haven’t.

    That constitutes the end of the solving experience at this stage. Well done! For now, there is no option to submit puzzles to me, for whatever purpose that may one day serve, but so long as you save you should always be able to come back to puzzles even those you have done.

    Importantly, you also have an opportunity to comment on a cryptic once I have posted on its solution and take part in whatever conversation may ensue, which I hope it does. I ask as a courtesy to other Patrons that you comment on a crossword only in the solution post and not elsewhere. Thank you. 

    Last updated: 27 December 2023.

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